Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I struggled to review this book. Not because I didn't like it,because overall I did. I just didn't want to have to think about it any more, because it haunted me from the moment I finished it.

The basic premise of the story is that Henry is a time traveller who jumps about in time. He has an ordinary chronological life, although he is not always in it! He has no control over when this happens or where he goes to, but he always seems to go back (or forward) to his own life. This is how he meets Claire, he appears next to her in a field when he is 36 and she is 6. This continues through Claire's childhood until they eventually meet in real time when Claire is 20 and Henry is 28. Oh and he's always naked when he time travels, which quite often causes problems!

The story continues with their life together in real time, punctuated by Henry's frequent disappearances into other periods of his life. In the first half of the book, everything seems fine and as if their life can be continued with at least an appearance of normality, but as the story continues it becomes clear that something is going to go horribly wrong for Claire and Henry. Events don't seem quite right, and certain of Henry's time travelling 'adventures' appear to be very unpleasant, almost cataclysmic. The second half of the book is permeated with a accelerating sense of impending doom.

The story is told through alternating accounts from both Clare and Henry, and the author helpfully starts each section by telling us how old they both are and what year we are in! Henry is obviously coming from the future with knowledge of how his life is there which leads nicely on to the most interesting part of the story for me. The first occasion Henry meets Claire it is by chance, but from then on, Claire is in the meadow because Henry has given her a list telling her the dates that he will appear. I don't think it gives very much away to say that Claire and Henry eventually get married but does the fact that Henry knows what is going to happen in his future mean that it has to happen. Towards the end of the book it becomes perfectly clear that things will happen because they have already happened and nobody can really do anything to change it.

There is also an interesting thread running throughout the novel where Henry comes into contact with himself. Each time he time travels he creates a new version of himself, which then exists in that time period forever. And on various occasions, this alternate self helps the real time Henry in situations. The first example of this is when Henry is a small boy and travels for the first time and grown up Henry is there to help him. Obviously adult Henry has already experienced this so knows that he is there to help the child Henry and this is just a continuous circle, always repeating itself! In fact, the alternate Henry's are quite often present at crucial points in Henry and Claire's life and on a couple of occasions saves the day,as such.

Aaaah!!!!!! Did I say it was head spinning? I definitely should have done. I enjoyed the story though, and all the ideas about non-linear time. It is however an incredibly sad story, but I couldn't put it down. I really wanted to know what happened to Henry and Claire, but this isn't actually why it haunted me though. It was the end. I just wanted more from Claire at the end. What happens is incredibly sad, but she seems to spend the rest of her life waiting for Henry, just as she has spent her life waiting for him since she was 6. I just wanted her to have more about her and I can't get it out of my head. I just can't and don't want to imagine that sort of life!

I can't do this book justice in a review. I'm sure a better reviewer could, but I can't. This is not helped by the fact that I can't include any quotes to illustrate these ideas because I can't even bring myself to open the book to find them! It was a good story though, I just wanted a better ending. Not necessarily a happy one, just a better one.

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